Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"Reinvent money. Transform the global economy." That's the promise at the top of the homepage of Libra, an almost parodically ambitious pecuniary exercise brought to you by the empire-builders at Facebook.

The big picture: Facebook is no stranger to hubris. Back in 2013, CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided he was going to reinvent the smartphone. “Today, our phones are designed around apps, not people,” he said. “We want to flip that around.”

Be smart: The balance of probabilities is that Facebook Money is going to go the way of the Facebook Phone — or, for that matter, Facebook Credits, the company's previous attempt to get into payments. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has laid out many good reasons to worry about Libra succeeding, but the fact is that Facebook's cryptocurrency ambitions are unlikely to get all that far.

Libra's primary stated goal is to concentrate on serving the 1.7 billion of the world's adults who are entirely outside the financial system. The idea is that they should be able to send and receive money as easily as they do text messages.

  • The problem: These people — whom the industry likes to call "the unbanked" — might well be able to open up a Libra wallet on their phones, but they will still need "on-ramps" and "off-ramps." How do you convert cash into Libra, or Libra into cash? The global remittance industry has struggled with these last-mile problems for decades; Facebook hasn't even started thinking about how to address them. Even domestically, Libra doesn't seem to solve any of the problems facing the unbanked.

Libra is, literally, run by committee. It's called the Libra Association, and Facebook has just one vote. When problems arise, Facebook will point out that it does not control the currency. This will not mollify regulators.

  • Libra is global; the Libra Association is based in Switzerland. The system as a whole is designed to operate as seamlessly in Tehran as it does in Tulsa or Tegucigalpa. But that's a problem for regulators, who have sanctioned countries like Iran and who have gone to great lengths to ensure that money can't easily flow there. In the U.S., the chair of the House Financial Services Committee has already requested a moratorium on further Libra development; international regulators are similarly underwhelmed.
  • Worth noting: The long list of partners in the Libra Association includes everybody from Visa to Vodafone — but doesn't include a single bank.

The bottom line: Libra can't be successful without regulatory approval, and that approval isn't going to arrive anytime soon.

Go deeper: FT Alphaville has a whole series, "Breaking the Zuck Buck," devoted to all the problems with Libra.

Go deeper

Updated 6 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 18,139,438 — Total deaths: 690,452 — Total recoveries — 10,751,618Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 4,682,461 — Total deaths: 154,965 — Total recoveries: 1,468,689 — Total tests: 56,812,162Map.
  3. Politics: White House will require staff to undergo randomized coronavirus testing — Pelosi says Birx "enabled" Trump on misinformation.
  4. Business: Virtual school is another setback for retail — The pandemic hasn't hampered health care.
  5. Public health: Former FDA chief says MLB outbreaks should be warning sign for schools.

House Democrats subpoena top Pompeo aides in probe of IG firing

Mike Pompeo. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images

The Democratic chairs of the House Oversight and House Foreign Affairs committees announced subpoenas Monday for four State Department officials as part of their investigation into the firing of former Inspector General Steve Linick.

Why it matters: The two committees, in addition to Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are investigating whether Linick was fired because he was probing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the State Department's attempts to bypass Congress to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

2 hours ago - Health

Pelosi: Birx "enabled" Trump on coronavirus misinformation

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN on Monday she does not have confidence in White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx because "she has enabled" President Trump to spread coronavirus misinformation.

What she's saying: "I don't have confidence in anyone who stands there while the president says, 'Swallow Lysol and it's going to cure your virus,'" Pelosi told host Jim Sciutto.